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How Full Is Your Bucket?

Berry People CartoonsThe books that inspired this lesson have nothing to do with art, and the illustrations were not what attracted me! What I LOVE about these books is their message. And what better way to drive home a great message than with a fun art lesson??! Inspired by a bullying episode at my school, I saw this idea as a way to make a difference, so I had to try it. I figured if even one child was helped, it would be worth it!

"Bucket" Books

I discovered these books after reading an inspiring review of the #1 New York Times bestseller How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath. When I noticed Rath had also written a kids’ version, How Full Is Your Bucket? – for Kids, I knew I had found something special! This book, along with Have You Filled a Bucket Today? and Growing Up with a Bucket Full of Happiness by Carol McCloud, provided my students with a metaphor for compassion and kindness and gave them a new vocabulary they could use to talk about their feelings.

We began our school year on a positive note with everyone “on the same page” by reading How Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids (Kindergarten and 1st grade), and Have You Filled a Bucket Today? (2nd through 5th grades). Both books communicate the same message, the former being written in a narrative style and the latter in a more expository style. (With my middle school students, I read short selections from Carol McCloud’s chapter book Growing Up with a Bucket Full of Happiness over a period of a few weeks).

These books suggest that you think of everyone as having an “invisible bucket” over their head that represents how they feel. When their bucket is full, they feel great. When their bucket is empty, they feel terrible. Every interaction throughout the day will either fill or empty someone’s bucket.

When I say “everyone” has a bucket, that means teachers, too! So I started my lesson by drawing a large bucket on the white board, and scribbled in about a third of it with “water”. As students would raise their hands, or exhibit other positive behavior, I’d scribble in a little more water. If they talked while I was talking, got out of their seat, etc., I’d erase some of the water in my bucket. They quickly got the idea!

Soon I heard students talking about their own “buckets” and got reports from staff that this new vocabulary was popping up as students worked to resolve their conflicts in the classroom and on the playground. Bullying problems are complex with no easy solutions, but I can honestly say this “bucket theory” has helped in us move in a positive direction!

In responding to this story with an art project, we made thumbprint cartoon people interacting in ways that demonstrated “bucket filling”. I wanted to use this project for our school display at our County Fair, so I had to work backward from the space we were given, dividing by the total number of students in order to have each student represented (this gave us only about 4″x5″ per student). We also needed to follow the theme of the fair, which was “The Berry Best”, so we decided to make our thumbprint people look like berries!

This project had to be completed in one class session, so I chose to work with ink rather than paint. This way, students could draw faces on their berry people right away and not have to wait for them to dry. With my “spend as little as possible” budget, I knew I couldn’t purchase enough stamp pads, so we made our own! We took a small piece of aluminum foil, folded it a few times to make it strong, and colored over it with Crayola Washable Markers. The ink would stay wet long enough for students to press their thumbs onto it, but it dried quickly once the print was made on paper. And the ink easily wiped off of thumbs with a single “wet wipe”. Yes – this was one of my best ideas ever!!

Make Your Own Stamp Pad, step 1 IMG_2317 IMG_2318

Berry Thumbprint People CartoonReferring back to the story, we brainstormed possible “bucket filling” conversations and listed them on the whiteboard. Then I showed students how to make “speech bubbles” (write the words first so you know how big to make the bubble, then draw a “carrot” pointing to the person saying it).

It was a trick to make everything fit in our limited display space! We tried to keep classes together to make it easier for families to find their child’s drawing… and they all did! Hopefully our display inspired others to be “bucket fillers”, too!

County Fair Display for "How Full Is Your Bucket?"

This project addressed our school ESLRs (Expected Schoolwide Learning Results): “Thoughtful citizens who practice self-control and respect for others”, and “Skilled communicators who appreciate and express ideas through the arts.” I also adapted my lesson as needed to address at least one standard from each grade level, which was surprisingly easy to do!

Do you have a favorite book for teaching compassion and kindness?


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  1. Kim, I spend so much time telling students they may ONLY color (paint, draw, etc.) on their paper and not on their skin, that if I let them color on their hands even once, I’m afraid I could never reign them back in!! ;-)

  2. I don’t know which I love more – the tip about using foil + marker as a temporary ink pad or your beautiful bulletin board display :)

    1. Awww…thanks, Rina! Necessity is the mother of invention, right?! The display was a joint effort with some of the other teachers at my school. It’s always more fun to work as a team on projects like this!